Grapes discarded from white wine production are turned into chocolate ‘superfoods’

Waste from grapes used to make white wine could soon become a new ‘superfood’ – and be used in a chocolate that debuted here last week.

A group of scientists and entrepreneurs are aiming to turn Chardonnay pomace — the discarded grape skins, seeds and stems left over from winemaking — into a nutrient-rich “upcycled” superfood that some researchers say improves gut, cardiovascular and brain health.

Such “upcycling” would also be good news for the environment, since leftover grapes pressed for winemaking are equivalent to 10 billion pounds of waste per year worldwide – or about 830,000 pounds in California alone, according to Scott Forsberg, president of Vine to Bar, a new chocolate factory whose product is made with marc de Chardonnay.

The chocolate made its debut last week at this city’s Winter Fancy Food Show, which was attended by John Legend, Chrissy Teigen and Food Network star Giada de Laurentiis.

Vine to Bar and Sonomaceuticals – which developed Chardonnay marc – are owned by two wine industry mavericks – Barbara Banke, of Jackson Family Wines, and Peggy Furth, formerly of Chalk Hill Estates & Vineyards. (The friends also launched WindRacer Luxury Wines last July.)

Two wine glasses on a table with Vine to Bar chocolates
The new Vine to Bar company, which makes chocolate bars from marc de Chardonnay, is run by a former Mars Inc executive.
Jennifer Gould

It took more than 10 years — and $10 million, including a $500,000 USDA grant — to turn Chardonnay pomace into a potential superfood. Then the two had to figure out what to do with it.

At first, Forsberg said, they tried adding it to pastries, cookies and breads. But the Chardonnay pomace changed the texture of the food, making it too dense without the “light, fluffy flavor” that’s key to fresh baked goods.

Chocolate, however, turned out to be the perfect match. “These two ancient foods revered for millennia share one thing in common: they’re rich in antioxidants and optimize blood flow, which is good for your brain and cognition,” Forsberg said.

Chardonnay marc is said to be both nutrient-dense and flavanol-rich — and also sweetens dark chocolate, says Vine to Bar chocolatier Ralph Jerome, former head of global innovation at Mars Inc. ., the great chocolatier.

“Chardonnay marc improves the taste of chocolate. It decreases bitterness and adds a fruity note. It’s a qualitative improvement,” Jerome said, adding that the bars took about a year to develop.

Chardonnay grapes on the vine in an orchard
What winemakers reject can be turned into a sweetening agent for a new kind of solid treats.
Getty Images

As for the marc, it is made like this: At harvest, the winegrowers dry and grind the pressed skins, pulp and seeds of the grapes into a marc, preserving their fiber and flavor.

“We have beautiful Chardonnay grapes. When you squeeze the water and sugar, you are left with everything else. We clean it, dry it, grind it and the powder is all that’s left,” Forsberg said.

The Chardonnay grapes all come from Jackson Family Wines. And in the bars, the sustainably sourced cocoa comes mostly from West Africa and South America. They contain 15% Chardonnay pomace in different flavors, with almonds, Himalayan pink salt, Chardonnay smoked salt, tart cherry and cocoa nibs.

Chardonnay marc also contains oligosaccharides, which are carbohydrates made up of at least three to 10 simple sugars. They serve as probiotics and serve as prebiotics to feed the good bacteria in the gut — and there could be even more of them than those found in breast milk, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis.

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